The new $600 million U.S. Route 301 in Delaware aims to improve safety, reduce congestion and support economic development in southern New Castle County.
“The biggest concern is to ease traffic loads on existing Route 896 and Route 299 through Middletown,” says Javier Torrios, Assistant Director of Transportation Solutions, Construction for the Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT). “There has been tremendous growth in the Middletown area, large and small scale businesses and residences.”
Southern New Castle County is expecting commercial development to grow by 275 percent and residential units to increase by 143 percent.
The new 14-mile long U.S. 301, a four-lane toll road, will provide an alternate route from Baltimore or Washington, DC, to Wilmington, Delaware. Regional traffic, including trucks, will pass by Middletown rather than going through the community.
“It is a new limited-access highway, and in this area of the country, building new limited-access highways is rare,” says Mark Tudor, Assistant Director of Project Development North for DelDOT. “It has been a challenge but something really needed. We call it a missing link in a regional network.”
Coming to Fruition
The project required the purchase of a significant amount of property for right of way.
“It is typical of a project of this size to improve the highway system,” Tudor says.
DelDOT has been considering building this road for more than 50 years, off and on, evaluating different alignments. The effort was reenergized in the 2000s as traffic conditions became more of an issue, Tudor says. Design began in 2008 and financing fell into place.
The U.S. Department of Transportation lent DelDOT $211.35 million for the project, under the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act. It has a low interest rate. Additionally, a Toll Revenue Bond and proceeds from a Grant Anticipation Revenue Vehicle bond contributed to financing the project.
Construction began in 2015, and the road is scheduled to open to traffic by year-end. When complete, the existing U.S. 301 will convert to being a road for local access. DelDOT estimates about half of local roads will experience at least 20 percent less traffic. The tolling will be all electronic with set rates. For drivers without an EZ-pass, cameras will take photos of the vehicle’s license plate and send a bill.
The Scope of Construction
In addition to the concrete road, the project entails building 28 bridges and three interchanges, two with roundabouts.
“Roundabouts under certain traffic operate more efficiently than traditional intersections with a signal or a four-way stop,” Tudor says. “When we looked at the traffic projections and operations, we felt the roundabouts would provide a better intersection for people coming on and off the new road.”
DelDOT has installed several roundabouts in the last 15 years. Tudor suggests they are primarily used for intersections with congestion or safety issues.
Most of the bridges pass over roads, railroad tracks and a small creek. The largest bridge structure is a steel-girder flyover above SR 1 north of the Biddles toll plaza in Section 1B. Additionally, bridge structures pass over environmentally sensitive areas. DelDOT worked closely with the U.S. Corps of Engineers and state agencies to minimize impacts on the environment, Tudor says. DelDOT also is installing arched culverts for wildlife crossings.
Crews will place more than 300,000 cubic yards of concrete pavement.
DelDOT divided the project into seven contracts for the mainline work, which in total cost $410 million. All are being built concurrently.
“We were trying to get it constructed by the end of 2018,” Torrios says. “We thought it was best to break into multiple contracts. And it made it competitive, so local contractors could bid on the work.”
That plan was successful, with three local businesses each having a section. (See “Project Partners” sidebar for the list of contractors.)
The contractors began driving piles and moving dirt in 2016. It’s a heavy dirt-moving project, bringing material in to build the road and allow for drainage. About 7.3 million cubic yards of material was needed, Tudor says. Most of the earth moving occurred within the job limits to avoid truck traffic on local roads.
Work continued throughout the year. Torrios explains that pile driving and laying pipe could take place in the winter, but paving and embankment work had to wait until warmer weather.
DelDOT and its design consultants provided the contractors with 3-D models of the road. An Allan Myers’ subcontractor used stringless paving. Most of the firms are using the 3-D modeling and GPS for earthwork operations, Torrios said. DelDOT uses drones to monitor the work.
Coordination and Compromise
Coordinating with seven contractors on the same project has required communication and compromise. DelDOT held progress meetings on a monthly basis and conference calls weekly. It kept track of how all seven projects were progressing with officials in the field monitoring the work and answering questions as they came up.
“We ensured the project had an on-time delivery,” Torrios says. “It’s all about communication and having good open lines of communication and making sure as shop drawings come in, as requests for information come in from a contractor or a design issue, they are immediately addressed.”
Two of the contractors had to share a borrow pit in the southern part of the project, Torrios explains. The crews from both firms, Greggo & Ferrara and Allan Myers, excavated more than 3 million cubic yards of embankment materials.
“Each contract had milestones to come out of the borrow pit,” Torrios says. “Coordinating and working with them, they were able to excavate and bank the material without impacting the project schedule. It was managed very well.”
DelDOT has strived to keep the public informed of the work taking place and how it might affect their lives. Even though it is a new road, it passes in some locations close to the existing U.S. 301 and residences. DelDOT has monitored noise levels.
“We’ve worked with the residents to address any concerns, whether it was noise or dust control,” Torrios says. “We stayed on top of things.”
Some construction will take place in 2019, even though the road will open in December of this year.
“It’s been a big team effort to make this a successful project,” Torrios says. “It’s taken all of the partners involved in the work. It’s a very aggressive schedule.”
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